Friday, March 21, 2008
Hoops and pickers
One of the pleasures of this job is that you actually get to do something that you would want to do if you didn't have to work. One of the things I like to do is talk to musicians, about music, about their work, maybe play a little.
I have had the honor of talking to Dr. Billy Taylor, the late James Brown, George Clinton, and Victor Wooten. This week, I got a chance to chat with country star and Grammy winner Vince Gill.
Turns out Vince is a big fan of the Belmont Bruins, the Nashville, Tennessee school that was playing Duke in the first round here in Washington at the Verizon Center. I saw him on the big screen and grabbed my recorder and chatted with him at halftime of the game.
I have to admit I was a little intimidated to talk to him. I mean he's not here for an interview; he's here to watch a basketball game. But nothing ventured, nothing gained. And we have a mutual friend. A good friend of mine went to church with Vince's wife Amy Grant, Michael W. Smith and Brown Bannister when she was in school at Vanderbilt. So I screwed my courage to the sticking point and asked him a few questions. I also had to remember, he's a musician, I am a musician, we have that in common.
"How are you liking the game so far," I asked.
"It's a lot of fun, I think these teams match up pretty well, so far. Duke is obviously a better ball club, with better players," he said.
"Did you graduate from Belmont or are you on the faculty there?"
"No I am just great friends with (Belmont Coach) Rick Byrd. We have been friends and I have been going to their games for about 20 years now. I tease him and say that 'I am your Jack Nicholson; the Lakers have Jack Nicholson, and you have me."
"What's your latest project, what are you working on right now?"
"Well, I just last month won a Grammy for the last record I had out called These Days. And I will probably work on another record and get out and do some touring. My world doesn't change much from year to year, it's pretty similar, " he answered.
It was LOUD where we were talking. The Pep bands from both Belmont and Duke were blaring away and there were about 20,000 people in the building.
But we kept chatting.
"So, I was talking to a Belmont student earlier today who is a music business major. What advice would you as a working musician give to young kids who are coming up and hoping to get into the music business?"
"You know, the funny thing is, the way I grew up, the business is not that way any more, so my advice is almost pointless, because the era of today is not really comparable to the era I grew up in. The bottom line is, great music is great music, and if you can find a way to steer towards that and bet on that, and always put art before commerce, it will benefit you greatly.
I asked him about the American Idol phenomenon, where some folks seem to get fame at a younger and younger age - especially this year. Vince told me that its very different now.
"To compare the music business of today to the music business of 30-35 years ago when I started is crazy. But it still holds true, today is such a visual age. Everybody watches music, even in the way you record it, with the computerization, the way it's done it all shows up on a screen. And you look at music more so now than you listen to it and I grew up in my bedroom just listening to music, figuring out with my ears how they did it. And its very different because people want to see it. But once again, hard work will create an awful lot of good luck. But the things like American Idol that you are seeing, it doesn't matter how you get your foot in the door. The bottom line is once you get your foot in the door if you have talent you've got a chance. That's never going to be any different."
"So it's like 10% inspiration and 90% hard work, right?"
"Yeah, you gotta work really hard, You've got to be willing to starve. A lot of people aren't. A lot of people want - the age today people want to be famous. You know people like Paris Hilton are just famous for being famous, not necessarily for doing anything. And I think there's a lot of singers, and musicians and rappers that are the same way. But a true musician just wants to be great at what they do."
I could tell I should wrap things up - I mean I didn't want to take all Vince's time - he might have to go to the bathroom or something. But I wanted to get in a couple more questions.
"So tell me, I have friends - and myself included - who would play music for free because it's their passion. Is that true of you?"
"I would and did and will again (Laughs)." With that, I thought I had enough and walked back to my seat. But it was great to chat with him. God help you when two pickers get together. There's much I would have loved to ask, but maybe later.